Where did the peace & quiet of country living go?
by Johndavid Hensley via reminiscent memories
With the F15s scrambling over Long Island yesterday and also the conversation I had Sunday with the Sequinos, I am further saddened by the state of Long Island.
As a kid, Grumman was here and hearing the sounds of jet fighters overhead was common; even comforting. Not in a safety sort of way but in a relaxing sort of way; similar to listening to the steady turn of the clothes dryer.
Hearing the fighter jets was very simply part of the countryside along with the sound of tractors tilling the land, helicopters spraying the fields and motorboats in the Sound.
When those jets did their test maneuvers overhead, it was quite a thrilling sight for the youngsters. I had a friend whose father was a test pilot and I remember thinking my friend's father was a real superstar. Seeing or hearing them crash in the fields surrounding Grumman every once in a while was not at all shocking. It was just part of what they did over there at Grumman.
Yesterday, many responded with panic and fear as those F15s shook the windows of most houses and drowned out the sound of any television. Our post-9/11 life no longer allows us to live in wonderment of such a massive piece of machinery as an F-15. Today, seeing those jets can only mean danger. Where did the peace & quiet of country living go?
As a kid, driving anywhere east of Nicholls Road was filled with the serene and relaxing fields worked by generations of farmers. The Hulses, the Lewins, the Wells and many others. Potatoes and corn as far as the eye could see. Driving to Nassau County was "going to the city" according to my parents. Now, driving to Nicholls Road is practically city driving with traffic backing up and crawling along as if it were Queens.
I remember driving on 25A as a kid and being able to look across the fields to see Sound Avenue. As I drove to Wading River a few weeks ago and traveled down Edwards Avenue, I noticed what looked liked a field of squash/zucchini and perhaps broccoli, Brussels sprouts on the right.
I could not see across the field to the left to see Sound Avenue any longer. All those big houses block my view now. What do we need all those BIG houses for? As a kid, that field was filled with strawberries in the late Spring, the world famous Long Island potatoes and even pumpkins we picked for Halloween. Idaho potatoes had nothing on LI spuds. My mother would buy a 50 pound bag of LI potatoes from a guy across from the county jail. It was there that we ate three hot dogs for $1 — not at the jail, but at the hot dog truck next to the potato guy.
It also occurred to me though, there are less farms, more big homes. More traffic lights cutting through farm country and less farm tractors blocking traffic. Potatoes have been replaced by sod. I still can't get used to the light at Edwards Avenue and Sound Avenue. Traffic lights in the mist of what I still expect to see as farm fields as far as the eye could see seem to force the thought of city living in my head. If I wanted city living, I'd move to NYC. If I wanted suburban living, I'd move to Nassau County. There is something to be said about the benefits of rural country living. Yet, here I am asking where did the peace & quiet of country living go?
When I was in school, I think around Middle School time or maybe 6th grade, Colleen Hammill moved to town from 'the city'. I think she was from Brooklyn. I remember thinking Colleen was way ahead of the rest of us as to the ways of the world. After all, we were just country kids and that sort of implied we were a bit socially retarded when compared to a city kid. I think a lot of kids may have thought she was a celebrity being from the city. She was either a celebrity in their eyes or they were just down right scared of the city girl. She lived in Wading river, which at the time was sparsely populated and a sleepy little town. Country kids were just innocent. Naive. We weren't too much in a hurry to go out and explore the world at that age. I imagine Colleen was just like the rest of us, but somehow she had that aura of "city" about her that perhaps didn't let the rest of us see her deer-in-the-headlights-look on her face as she made the transition from city life to country living.
Nowadays, middle school kids all seem like they are 'city kids' with their hip hop style and vernacular that sounds like a foreign language for which they should be getting college credit. There seems to be far less innocent and naive today in middle school than 35 years ago. Back when I was a kid in middle school, the biggest challenge was gathering enough kids in the neighborhood to play stick ball in the dirt lot up the road. Nowadays, middle school kids are being forced to make decisions about sex, drugs, booze and even criminal stuff. The separation between city and country was clearly defined way back when. Not so much now. No longer can the city people move out to the country to keep their kids safe and innocent. Some time, some how the peace and quiet of being a simple country kid disappeared.
Speaking of Wading River, I remember the only thing the town had was the state park, a strip mall with the drug store, deli and bank, the butcher, Jaqueline's Bar, the 2x4 Restaurant and Fontana's bakery. We all had to go well into the next towns further away to get anything extensive needed for living. Except for the bank, all of it was family owned and passed down from one generation to the next.
My grandfather and uncles ran a neighborhood ice cream truck business with four ice cream trucks and the ice truck. Yes, my grandfather was an ice man who delivered ice to the Wildwood State Park campers everyday twice a day — faithfully, never missing a day as far as I know. His father was an ice man too in the Bronx after immigrating to NY from Germany. My grandfather sold block and cubed ice along with staple camping items like milk, eggs, donuts and bread. Each of my brothers had their turn at running routes too just as each generation before them had done dating back to Pelham Park in the Bronx in the early 1900's. Can you believe having block ice as your refrigerator?! This wasn't too long ago.
I'm only 46 and the ice truck ran well into my adulthood. Now though, there is no ice truck. There is a big grocery store with plenty of ice. The end to most of the family owned small businesses and farms are fast becoming a thing of the past, just as the death of the small country town seems to be inevitable.
There is talk of building up the main road (Wading River Corridor as it is called) with all kinds of strip malls, big box stores and other junk our country life doesn't need. After all, how many Home Depots, big supermarkets, strip malls that remain empty I might add, can we all really need enough to sustain all of them in business. All of these simply cover our good green country earth with blacktop. Hot, ugly, dirty blacktop that will be called parking lots, roads and other city type things that some people in power think we country folk need to prosper. Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of these save-the-environment-and-keep-everything-green people. But, what is wrong with just having the peace and quiet of country living we used to have?
Now that I have my own kids, I wonder how to keep things as close to that simple country living as possible for them. I don't want my kids to have to grow up too fast for fear they will miss out on the easy life. Sadly, I'm not sure the simple country life is something my kids will get to enjoy the way I did when I was a kid.
Keeping it simple really seems to be much more complicated nowadays. Playing stick ball in an empty field or putting an impromptu wiffle ball game in the backyard - just because it was fun & that's what kids did. Nowadays, it is all private property and scheduled activities that cost more than I can afford and really don't instill the values I want for my kids. What's wrong with having nothing to do & finding something to do with with just what we have in the neighborhood or the backyard? Running through a farm field hopping over each row of cabbage — just because I could.
Nowadays, farmers have to fence in their fields as the public has taken the liberty of 'picking their own' without permission. Somehow this 'I'll take it because I am entitled' mindset has taken over our simple country way of life. Whatever happened to people just being considerate of someone else's hard work?
Standing in the backyard, yelling across to our friends, the DeFeos, who lived on the street behind us — just because we could without anyone thinking we were disturbing the peace, was pretty normal. The noise of kids laughing, playing and having fun in the neighborhood is supposed to be sewn into the fabric of the peace and quiet of country living. The Toccis, the DeFeos and the Hensleys all traveled together in our own little neighborhood family. It kept things simple when it came to hanging out since we all lived within three or four blocks of each other.
Having a neighborhood family kept us out of trouble — for the most part — or it let us all experience and experiment with life in a safer way than nowadays. Nobody knows anyone anymore and neighbors seem to avoid each other like the plague. "I'm not getting involved" has taken on a whole new meaning for the survival of the neighborhood family.
Going down to the Point or to the end of Longneck Blvd to fish or swim or clam was real fun — because back when we did this, homeowners didn't claim ownership to nature, the sea, or the beach like they do now.
Stomping on the wet beach sand near the water's edge to dig for piss clams seems like the perfect activity for my boys. Except nowadays, somebody claims ownership of the beach and has put up "No Trespassing" signs. What was once free space for all to enjoy is now a "Private Beach." How does one own the shores of Flanders Bay or the LI Sound? When their "Private Beach" is contaminated, who has to foot the bill to clean it up? — the public. Yet, the public is barred from enjoying what we pay to maintain, fix, clean or improve.
Whatever happened to the simple country life seems to be a harder question to answer nowadays. Where has the peace and quiet of country living gone?